Prose from Poetry Magazine

Q&A: Atsuro Riley

by Atsuro Riley

Striplings” feels as if it might be drawn from a story, and yet isn’t one exactly. Can you say more about this?

Drawn from, yes. I’ve known and carried the tale of this “pale (pink-backed) tobacco-crew” for most of my life. I think the poem might be something like its sensorial concentrate; a kind of sense-trace of the story; facet-flares off an old old accrescence at the core.

In “Field,” the first of the poem’s three panels, there seem to be different voices at work. How do the lines on the left relate to the italicized lines on the right?

The voice of the teller goes about his “official” narrating business on the left; all the while the cropper-boys themselves are chiming in with their emendations, their side of the story on the right.

(That this call-and-response field-song colloquy ends up looking like a field — an incidental bonus.)

What is a poke? And what are crowders?

A poke is a small sack; a clutch of things (or people). Crowders are (greener-tasting) cousins to the black-eyed pea, pretty much rampant through the South Carolina hot months.

Why is the “After-Road” panel so brief— just one prose sentence ?

All the best old tale-tellers of my upbringing were crackerjack at economizing for maximum reverberation and haunt; I bear their example in mind here.

And I hear master Bashō too, exhorting still (from way on back in seventeenth-century Japan):

— The surplus meaning is infinite here.
— Is there any good in saying everything?

Originally Published: December 4, 2012


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 Atsuro  Riley


Atsuro Riley grew up in South Carolina lowcountry and lives in San Francisco. His heavily stressed, percussive, consonant-rich, free-verse poems conjure up the elemental images of the lives of people inhabiting a specific, acutely portrayed landscape. His poems are dense with impressions, voices, and glimpses of people who have experienced the Vietnam War, rural life, and the South. Though grounded in a world that seems . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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